Officer James Kane was murdered while on patrol in the north end of Philadelphia on June 5, 1959. The suspects, identified as John and William Coyle, fled to New England after the murder, and were eventually tracked to Middleboro, Massachusetts, by the Massachusetts State Police. A gun battle that followed led the surrender of John Coyle after his brother was shot and killed.
In recognition of that capture, the Philadelphia Police Department invited representatives from the Massachusetts State Police to participate in the dedication ceremony for Officer Kane. Major Leonard Von Flatern III, commander of Troop B, was accompanied by two retired MSP officers - one of whom is his father - who were integral parts of the three-day manhunt and capture of the Coyle Brothers more than years ago. They were in the middle of the gun battle which led to the surrender of John Coyle after his brother was shot and killed. The Major's father, Leonard Von Flatern Jr., who eventually retired from the Massachusetts State Police as a lieutenant colonel, and Robert Enos, who retired as a captain, were in the middle of the gunfight that late spring day five decades ago.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Von Flatern and Capt. (ret.) Enos, both of them then holding the rank of trooper, recalled the fateful events during their visit to Philadelphia.
On June 15, 1959 in the middle of the day, two men held up a liquor store in Middleboro, a small town near Cape Cod. One shot was fired before the suspects fled. It was not long before a state trooper and a local police officer located the suspect vehicle parked off the road in a heavily wooded area. As the officers approached the vehicle, a hail of bullets erupted and the suspects fled into the woods. A subsequent check of the vehicle revealed a surprise. Locked in the trunk was the owner of the car who had been kidnapped 10 days earlier in Philadelphia. He had an amazing story to tell - including the fact that the suspects in the woods were John and William Coyle, wanted for countless robberies throughout the northeast and, most importantly, for the murder of Philadelphia Police Officer James Kane.
Thus started what would be chronicled as the largest manhunt in Massachusetts history. State, local and federal officers cordoned off a five-mile area of woods and swamp that was infested with bugs and snakes. Roadblocks were set up. Police searched for two days and two nights to no avail. But they would not quit, and persistence paid off. On the morning of the third day, their break came when an alert citizen reported a possible sighting of the fugitives.
Massachusetts State Police officers converged on the scene and surrounded the suspects. The Coyle brothers stilled refused to surrender, and once again, began firing at the troopers. A gunfight followed and William Coyle was fatally wounded by a gunshot to the head. Upon seeing the fate of his brother, John Coyle immediately surrendered and was taken into custody. Five guns were recovered, including a Smith & Wesson revolver seized by Trooper Von Flatern and a Harrington and Richardson revolver seized by Trooper Robert Enos. The wanted poster from Philadelphia in 1959 offered a reward for the Coyle brothers dead or alive. One was delivered in each manner.
The story of the Coyle brothers' capture lives on in the annals of Massachusetts State Police history. The Massachusetts State Police are proud to have been part of the effort that brought justice to those who so senselessly ended the life of one of Philadelphia's finest.